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An analysis of the factors impacting win percentage and change in win percentage in women’s Division 1 college lacrosse

Authors: Christiana E. Hilmer1

1Department of Economics, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA

Corresponding Author:

Christiana Hilmer, PhD
5500 Campanile Drive
San Diego, CA 92182-4485
chilmer@sdsu.edu
619-301-9388

Christiana E. Hilmer, PhD, is a Professor of Economics at San Diego State University in San Diego, CA. Her research interests include the economics of sports, applied econometrics, labor economics, and resource and environmental economics.

An analysis of the factors impacting win percentage and change in win percentage in women’s Division 1 college lacrosse

ABSTRACT

What factors in women’s NCAA Division 1 college lacrosse led to an increase in win percentage in a single season and a change in win percentage across two consecutive seasons? Do these factors differ between teams at the top and the bottom ends of the win distributions? Using data from the 2023 and 2022 lacrosse seasons, we find that goals, assists, unassisted goals, and participation in the NCAA Championship tournament have a positive impact on win percentage, while opponent’s goals and if the team was new in 2023 have a negative impact on win percentage. The most crucial factor that explains the change in win percentage between the 2022 and 2023 lacrosse seasons is an improvement in the change in total shots ratio, while changes in attacking efficiency and defending efficiency are also important, all together explaining 58% of the variation. Teams at the bottom of the distributions have similar characteristics for both win percentage and change in win percentage as those teams in the middle and the top of the distributions, although there are some slight differences in the magnitudes of the statistically significant variables. These results suggest that lacrosse players and coaches should focus on obtaining additional goals and assists while concurrently minimizing the opponent’s goals to increase win percentage and changes in win percentage.

Keywords: distributional impacts, quantile regression, women’s college lacrosse

INTRODUCTION

Since the advent of sabermetrics pioneered by Bill James and the popularity of Lewis’s (5) Moneyball, the use of statistics to analyze sports has exploded in popularity. Reep and Benjamin (7) applied statistical analysis to team-wide factors in soccer where they investigated how the passing skill and position of a player on the field impacts goals. When analyzing a team’s performance, it is essential to determine which factors lead to a team’s success. Most research in this field has focused on professional sports. Busca et al. (1) examine eleven high-stakes international soccer tournaments to determine where a penalty kick is most likely to be struck. Pelechrinis and Winston (6) develop a framework that is comprised of publicly available data to determine the expected contribution of an individual professional soccer player to the probability of his team winning the game. Alberti et. al. (1) examine goal-scoring patterns in four different professional soccer leagues and find that the majority of goals are scored in the second half of the game with the most goals being scored in the last fifteen minutes of play. Castellano et. al. (3) analyze professional soccer match statistics to determine which factors impact winning, drawing, and losing a game and find that shots, shots on goal, and ball possession are important on the offensive end of the field, while total shots received and shots on target received are important on the defensive end of the field. A notable departure from research that focuses on professional soccer is Joslyn et al. (4), who examines the factors that improve the change in win percentage in men’s Division 1 (D1) college soccer. They find that improving shots, attacking, and defending positively impact the change in win percentage between two consecutive seasons.

This research utilizes the tools found in the team-focused literature from soccer and extends it to lacrosse. Soccer and lacrosse have many similarities, especially regarding possession, assists, goals, and defense. There are also marked differences between the two sports in addition to the obvious one: in soccer the ball is kicked while in lacrosse the ball is played with a net attached to a stick. Lacrosse is a higher-scoring game due to the presence of a 90-second shot clock and defending a women’s lacrosse player is more difficult in lacrosse than it is in soccer. One reason for this is that in lacrosse it is a foul to “move into the path of an opponent without giving the opponent a chance to stop or change direction, and causing contact” (page 51, 2022 and 2023 NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Rules Book (6)), while there is no such rule in soccer. Another reason is due to a rule in women’s lacrosse called shooting space (page 54, NCAA 2022 and 2023 Women’s Lacrosse Rules Book (6)), which states that “with any part of one’s body, guarding the goal outside or inside the goal circle so as to obstruct the free space to goal, between the ball and the goal circle, which denies the attack the opportunity to shoot safely and encourages shooting at a player” while soccer does not have a comparable rule. According to NCAA Statistics (7), the average number of goals per game scored in D1 women’s college lacrosse in 2023 was 12, while the average number of goals per game scored in D1 women’s college soccer in 2023 was 1.39. Another notable difference between lacrosse and soccer is that the offside rules are very different. The offsides rule in lacrosse states that there must be at least five defenders behind their defensive restraining line and at least four offensive players behind their offensive restraining line (page 61, NCAA 2022 and 2023 Women’s Lacrosse Rules Book (6)). The offsides rule in soccer is much less stringent and it states that when in the opponent’s half of the field “the player is not closer to the opponent’s end line than at least two opponents” (page 52, NCAA 2022 and 2023 Soccer Rules Book (7)). These disparities between lacrosse and soccer may result in differences in which factors impact win percentages and changes in win percentages.

This research examines which factors lead to an increase in win percentage and change in win percentage for women’s Division 1 college lacrosse teams. We also seek to determine if these factors differ among teams in the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles for win percentage and the change in win percentage. Using data from the 2023 women’s D1 college lacrosse season, we explain 86% of the variation in win percentage. Goals, unassisted goals, and participation in the NCAA Championship tournament have a statistically significant positive impact on win percentage, while opponent’s goals and if the team was new in 2023 have a statistically significant negative impact on win percentage. The most crucial factor explaining the change in win percentage between the 2022 and 2023 lacrosse seasons is an improvement in the change in total shots ratio, while changes in attacking efficiency and defending efficiency are also statistically significant, all together explaining 58% of the variation. The variables that explain both win percentage in a single season and the change in win percentage between seasons are similar between the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles. This suggests that teams at the bottom of the distributions should focus on the same factors as those at the top when they seek to improve during a season and between seasons.

METHODS

Data Source
Win percentage was collected from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) archives for the 2023 and 2022 seasons. A win was awarded one point while a loss was awarded zero points. Offensive and defensive statistics for the 2023 and 2022 seasons were collected from each University’s women’s lacrosse website housed in the season’s cumulative statistics. It is important to note that these data are provided by individual institutions and therefore the statistical findings of this research is dependent on the accuracy of the information provided by each school. In addition to winning percentage, data was collected on goals, assists, shots, opponent’s goals, opponent’s shots, unassisted goals, ground balls, turnovers, caused turnovers, draw controls, whether the team was new to NCAA D1 lacrosse in the 2023 season, and if the team made the NCAA Championship tournament in 2023. Of the 126 D1 women’s lacrosse teams, 123 had information on every variable listed above.

Variables and Distributions

This analysis aims to determine what factors impact a single season winning percentage and which factors impact the change in win percentage across two consecutive seasons. Figure 1 is a histogram of win percentage for the 2023 women’s lacrosse season. The average win percentage was close to 50% at 48.27%; the minimum win percentage was 0 for the two teams that lost every game during the season, while the maximum win percentage was from a team that won 95.65% of their games. The team with the second-highest win percentage won the 2023 NCAA National Championship tournament.


Summary statistics for the 2023 D1 women’s lacrosse 2023 season are found in table 1. The average number of goals and opponent’s goals nearly offset each other at 211 and 210, respectively. There was an average of 495 shots with a large standard deviation of 105. Below half the goals were aided by an average of 92 assists, while over half of the goals resulted from an average of 119 unassisted goals. There were nearly twice as many turnovers as there were caused turnovers, 7% or a total of 8 teams were new D1 lacrosse teams in 2023, and 24% of the D1 lacrosse teams made the NCAA end-of-season tournament.


Figure 2 contains a histogram of win percentage change, which is constructed by taking the win percentage in the 2023 lacrosse season and subtracting the win percentage in the 2022 lacrosse season. There are fewer observations in the change in win percentage because the seven teams who were new in the 2023 season did not have any statistics for the 2022 season. On average, most teams had a similar win percentage in 2023 as they did in 2022, with an average change in the win percentage of .16. The team with the lowest change in win percentage between the two seasons of -51.47 had a win percentage of 75% in 2022, dropping to 24% in 2023. At the other end of the spectrum, the team with the highest change in win percentage won 12% of their games in 2022 and improved to winning 50% of their games in 2023.

Following Joyce et al. (4), we construct three measures of team success to explain the change in winning percentage: total shots ratio, attaching scoring efficiency, and defending scoring efficiency. The first measure, total shots ratio, is constructed as

The total shots ratio in both 2022 and 2023 is .5, which means, on average, teams are matching their opponent’s shots with their own shots with a range in values from .23 to .7 in 2023 and .3 to .63 in 2022.  This finding for lacrosse compares favorably to what Joyce et al. (4) found for D1 college soccer, where the total shots ratio ranged from .24 to .69 in D1 men’s soccer.

            The second measure of team success is attacking scoring efficiently or goals to shots ratio.

The average attaching scoring efficiency for 2023 and 2022 was .42. This measure had a relatively smaller variability than the total shots ratio, with a minimum of around .3 for both years and a maximum of .5 in 2023 to .58 in 2023. This maximum means that the teams with the highest attacking scoring efficiency earn an average of one goal for every two shots. Being able to convert shots into goals is an essential aspect of winning games. Lacrosse teams are much more likely to convert shots into goals, as Joyce et al. (4) found an average attacking scoring efficiency of .1 or 1 goal for every ten shots in D1 men’s soccer.

The third measure of team success is the defending scoring efficiency, which is contracted as

This final measure determines if teams can prevent opponents from turning shots into goals. The average values for defending scoring efficiency are slightly higher than attaching scoring efficiency, with an average of .43 in 2023 and .44 in 2022. The variability is higher for defending scoring efficiency than attacking scoring efficiency, with a minimum of .31 in 2023 and .34 in 2022 and a maximum of .66 in 2023 and .77 in 2022. Teams that are better at preventing shots from being converted into goals typically have a higher win percentage.

Regression Model
The first step in our regression analysis is to empirically estimate the degree to which offensive and defensive statistics impact the win percentage for the 2023 lacrosse season. The win percentage regression model takes the form:

where  is the error term and i is the individual women’s lacrosse team.  This model is estimated using ordinary least squares to obtain the average marginal impact of each of the 11 variables, as well as using quantile regression at the 50th, 25th, and the 75th percentiles of the win percentage.  Quantile regression is a statistical method that estimates the association between the explanatory variables for a conditional quantile of the dependent variable, see Walmann (8) for a more detailed explanation.  In this application, we use quantile regression to determine if teams at the lower end of the win percentage distributions display different characteristics than those at the median and the top end of the distributions.

            The second part of the analysis follows Joyce et. al. (4) to determine what factors impact the change in win percentage between the 2023 and 2022 lacrosse seasons.  The regression model is as follows

where ε_i is the error term and i is the individual women’s lacrosse team. As with the individual season analysis, this model is estimated using ordinary linear regression and quantile regression at the 50th, 25th, and 75th percentiles.

RESULTS

Table 3 contains the results for the estimation of equation (4) from the 2023 lacrosse season with robust standard errors in parentheses. Looking first at the results from the ordinary least squares model, 86% of the variation in win percentage is explained by the 11 independent variables. Turning to the variables that are statistically significant, each additional goal results in an increase of .18 in win percentage, while each opponent’s goal results in a decrease of .2 in win percentage, with goals and opponent’s goals nearly offsetting each other. On average, one additional unassisted goal results in an increase of .13 in win percentage. Being a new D1 women’s lacrosse team in 2023 results in a 9 point marginally statistically significant decrease in win percentage relative to teams that have been in the league in previous years. This result suggests that new D1 teams have a difficult time navigating their first year likely due to players and coaches lacking experience and chemistry, making obtaining wins more difficult. Women’s lacrosse teams who participated in the 2023 NCAA Championship Tournament have a statistically significant almost 5 point higher win percentage than those who did not participate in the tournament. This finding is not surprising given that the two ways to get a team into the tournament are to either receive an automatic bid by winning their conference tournament or earn an at-large bid by having a compelling enough record during the regular season and conference playoffs.


The last three columns of table 3 contain quantile regression results at the 50th, 25th, and 75th percentiles of the win percentage distribution. Opponent’s goals are the only statistically significant factor to explain wins across all three percentiles. The magnitude of opponent’s goals is largest at the 25th percentile at -.24 and is -.20 for both the 50th and 75th percentile. Teams at the 25th and 50th percentiles of the win percentage distribution that participates in the NCAA end-of-season tournament has a statistically significant 7 point and 6 point higher win percentage, respectively, relative to those who did not participate, while this variable is not statistically significant at the 75th percentile. This may be because most, 73%, of the tournament participants come from the teams at the top 25% of the win percentage distribution, while most teams at the middle and bottom of the distribution did not participate in the tournament. Aside from this difference, the results are similar between the models at the three points in the win percentage distribution.

Table 4 contains the second part of the regression analysis which estimates equation (5) that attempts to determine what factors impact the change in win percentage between the 2023 and 2022 seasons. The variables contained in this analysis mimic those in Joyce et. al. (4) for men’s D1 college soccer. Looking at the OLS results, teams that had a one unit increase in the change in total shots ratio between the two seasons had a 2.4 increase in the change in win percentage. Teams with a 1 unit increase in the change in attacking efficiency had a 1 unit increase in the change in win percentage, and teams with a one unit increase in the change in defending efficiency decreased the change in win percentage by 1.2 points. The statistical significance between these lacrosse results and those found for soccer by Joslyn et al. (4) are identical, suggesting that even though there are many differences between the two sports, the same factors are important in explaining the change in win percentage between consecutive years. Comparing magnitudes between the two applications is not possible because the estimation methods differed. The statistical significance of the variables included in the quantile regression evaluated at the 50th, 25th, and 75th percentiles were the same as in the OLS regression. The quantile regression performed at the 25th percentile of the change in win percentage had the highest impact for the change in total shots ratio and the change in attacking efficiency, while the change in defending efficiency had the smallest impact. The change in total shots ratio and the change in attacking efficiency had the smallest impact for those teams at the 75th percentile, while the change in defending efficiency had the largest impact for those teams at the 50th percentile. These results suggest that the factors that impact the change in win percentage are similar across teams at the bottom and the top of the change in win percentage distribution, although the marginal impacts differed slightly between the percentiles.

Discussion

It is not surprising that additional goals led to an increase in win percentage and an increase in opponent’s goals led to a decrease in win percentage. However, it was unanticipated that many of the other offensive and defensive statistics included in the regression were not statistically significant. It is likely that these other factors either lead to the team’s ability to score goals, such as shots, ground balls, and caused turnovers, or lead to the opponent’s goals, such as turnovers. One drawback of this research is that it does not investigate how these other factors impact goals and opponent’s goals. One adage in lacrosse is “win the draw, win the game.” Even though draw controls are not statistically significant in explaining win percentage, there was no information contained in the box scores on how many goals were obtained when the team won the draw control or how many goals were conceded when the team lost the draw control. More detailed information would be needed to investigate this relationship further. Other factors that likely explain win percentage and changes in win percentage such as team chemistry, the presence of a star player, the experience of the players and the coaches, and how different game management strategies, such as the usage of substitutes and quickness of play, are not included because they are difficult to measure, not included in the box scores, or both.

For a lacrosse coach or lacrosse player who is looking to improve win percentage between seasons, it is comforting to note that focusing on improving the changes in total shots ratio, attacking scoring efficiency, and becoming better at defending by decreasing the opponent’s goal-to-shot ratio will lead to an increase in the change in win percentage. One major drawback of this research is that it does not point to the factors that cause improvements in these variables and how they feed into additional goals or fewer conceded goals.

CONCLUSIONS

This study is the first to analyze which factors impact win percentage and changes in win percentage for NCAA D1 women’s lacrosse. The regression results suggest that goals, unassisted goals, and those who competed in the NCAA tournament had a positive impact on win percentage, while opponent’s goals and teams that were new in 2023 had a negative impact on win percentage. These factors were similar across the distribution of win percentage at the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles. Changes in win percentage between the 2023 and 2022 seasons are positively impacted by the change in the total shots ratio and attacking scoring efficiency and negatively impacted by the change in defending scoring efficiency. Even though there are many differences between lacrosse and soccer, the findings of this research and those of Joyce et. al. (4) that focus on college soccer suggest that the factors that explain changes in win percentage are similar between the two sports. These results also suggest that the statistics that explain win percentage and change in win percentage are similar between teams at the bottom, at the middle, and at the top of the distributions.

Applications In Sport

Women’s lacrosse programs at the collegiate level as well as at the national level can use these results to determine which factors to focus on when attempting to improve their win percentage within a specific year or over the course of several years. This research suggests that teams should emphasize their efforts in practice and in games on factors that increase goals as well as those factors that prevent goals. The lack of empirical analysis at the collegiate level, especially for women’s sports, can be rectified using available data. Additional publicly available information would make individual game analysis more informative such as how winning a draw control impacts goals as well as how focusing on specific factors such as caused turnovers or increasing assists increases goals and therefore positively impacts a team’s chances of winning.

REFERENCES

  1. (1) Alberti, G., Iaia, F. M., Arcelli, E., Cavaggioni, L., Rampinini, E. (2013). Goal scoring patterns in major European soccer leagues. Sport Sciences for Heath, 9(3), 151-153.
  2. (2) Buscà, B., Hileno, R., Nadal, B., & Serna, J. (2022). Prediction of the penalty kick direction in men’s soccer. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 22(4), 571–582.
  3. (3) Castellano, J., Casamichana, D., Penas, C. (2012). The use of match statistics that discriminate between successful and unsuccessful soccer teams, Journal of Hunan Kinetics, 31, 137-147.
  4. (4) Joslyn, M.R., Joslyn, N. J. & Joslyn, M. R. (2017). What delivers an improved season in men’s college soccer? The relative effects of shots, attacking and defending scoring efficiency on year-to-year change in season win percentage. The Sport Journal, 24, 1-12.
  5. (5) Lewis, M. (2004). Moneyball: The art of winning an unfair game. WW Norton & Company.
  6. (6) NCAA 2022 and 2023 Women’s Lacrosse Rule Book. https://www.usalacrosse.com/sites/default/files/documents/Rules/WLC23.pdf
  7. (7) NCAA 2022 and 2022 Soccer Rules Book. https://www.ncaapublications.com/productdownloads/SO23.pdf
  8. (8) NCAA Statistics, Women’s Lacrosse and Women’s Soccer http://stats.ncaa.org/rankings/conference_trends
  9. (9) Pelechrinis, K., & Winston, W. (2021). A Skellam regression model for quantifying positional value in soccer. Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, 17(3), 187–201.
  10. (10) Reep, C., & Benjamin, B. (1968). Skill and chance in association football. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series A (General), 131(4), 581-585.
  11. (11) Waldmann E. (2018). Quantile regression: A short story on how and why. Statistical Modelling. 18(3-4): 203-218.
2024-04-01T07:01:38-05:00March 22nd, 2024|General, Research, Sport Training, Sports Management|Comments Off on An analysis of the factors impacting win percentage and change in win percentage in women’s Division 1 college lacrosse

Can there be two speeds in a clean peloton? Performance strategies in modern road cycling

Authors: Karsten Øvretveit1

1K.G. Jebsen Center for Genetic Epidemiology, Department of Public Health and Nursing,

Corresponding Author:

K.G. Jebsen Center for Genetic Epidemiology, Department of Public Health and Nursing, Norwegian University of Science and Technology,
Trondheim, Norway, PB 8905, N-7491 Trondheim, Norway
karsten.ovretveit@ntnu.no

Karsten Øvretveit, MSc3, is a physiologist and PhD candidate at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). His research areas include genetic disease risk, physical performance, motivational dynamics, and human nutrition.

Can there be two speeds in a clean peloton? Performance strategies in modern road cycling

ABSTRACT

In the history of professional cycling, riders have always sought competitive advantages. Throughout 20th century, many relied on performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) which gave rise to a phenomenon called “two-speed cycling”. Throughout its modern era, professional cycling has seen anti-doping efforts repeatedly intensify on the heels of several large doping scandals. Over the past decade, the sport appears to have transitioned away from large-scale systematic doping and towards novel, legal performance-enhancing strategies, facilitated by a close relationship with scientific, technological, and engineering communities. The tools and technologies available to assess the demands of the sport, the capabilities of the riders, and the role of environmental factors such as wind resistance, altitude, and heat are more refined and comprehensive than ever. Teams and riders are now able to leverage these to improve training, recovery, equipment, race tactics and more, often from a very early age. This review explores several key developments in road cycling and their implications for the modern professional peloton.


Key Words: professional cycling; performance-enhancing drugs; marginal gains; performance analysis

INTRODUCTION

The main pack of riders navigating the road in a cycling race, known as the peloton, comprises a wide range of physiological, anthropometrical, technical, and strategical attributes. The role of each rider in a given race is typically based on strengths, weaknesses, and objectives, and can be modified by injuries, fitness level, personal goals, and unexpected in-race developments. The concept of “cycling at two speeds”, cyclisme à deux vitesses, has historically been used to distinguish between chemically enhanced riders and those who ride clean (134). However, despite increasingly stringent doping controls in professional cycling along with a clear shift in doping culture, the concept of two-speed cycling remains.
Given the well-documented benefits of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), there is an expectation that the intensification of anti-doping measures in professional cycling leads to more homogeneous performance levels in the peloton by reducing the number of artificially enhanced riders. Although this may be a reasonable assumption, it discounts the many substantial advances made in training, nutrition, technology, and strategy, as well as the growing talent pool of potential professionals and the early age at which they begin to seriously structure their training, racing, and recovery. These factors can differ greatly between teams and individual riders and thus help maintain the two-speed phenomenon. This review provides a brief history of the PED culture and use in professional cycling, followed by an examination of some of the key developments in the sport that has helped preserve the two-speed phenomenon in a peloton riding within an increasingly strict anti-doping framework.

The performance-enhanced past of the peloton

Drugs have been used to enhance athletic performance for millennia, stretching back to at least the ancient Olympic Games (16). Cycling as a profession emerged among working-class men who likened endurance sports to physically demanding jobs where the use of drugs to aid performance was considered the right thing to do (58). Indeed, doping has been pervasive in professional cycling for over 150 years, throughout most of which it was either legal or not subject to testing (34). For decades, riders doped to simply be able to do the job – faire le métier (33). Then, athlete health became a concern and a major driving force to regulate, if not outright ban the use of certain substances. Drug testing in the Tour de France (TdF), the most prestigious event on the race calendar, began in 1966. Despite this, amphetamines, cortisone, and steroids remained widespread in the professional peloton. It was also around this time that rumors about the use of blood transfusions in athletes began (60). The year after Raymond Poulidor underwent the first drug test in the TdF, Tom Simpson collapsed on the ascent of Mount Ventoux and later passed away due to an unfortunate combination of alcohol, amphetamines, intense heat, and extreme physical exertion. Although this event brought more attention to the use of stimulants and other drugs in cycling and in sports in general (69), doping would persist for decades to follow. Based on interviews with riders on a professional cycling team at the turn of the millennium, psychiatrist Jean-Christophe Seznec (115) asserted that professional cyclists are not only prone to develop an addiction to PEDs, but also recreational drugs, noting the importance of explicitly acknowledging this risk in order to mitigate it.

When professional cycling entered the 90s, the banned yet at that time undetectable erythropoiesis-stimulating agent (ESA) recombinant human erythropoietin (rHuEPO) arrived in the peloton (101), and performances hit a new level. Increasing circulating erythropoietin (EPO) by illegal means has been perceived by some riders and coaches to give an estimated performance boost, without the term “performance” being strictly defined, of 3% to 20% (31, 100, 134, 138). Interestingly, despite its popularity in the peloton, the research literature on the effects of ESAs such as rHuEPO on endurance performance is equivocal. Its effects on hematological values like hemoglobin concentration ([Hb]) and clinical measurements of power and maximal oxygen uptake (V̇O2max) are well-established, but the real-world benefits are not always clear (116, 123).

There are several aspects of professional cycling that are difficult to account for in experimental studies on exogenous EPO, such as the extremely high fitness level of a peaked professional cyclist and the physiological impact of training and racing on parameters such as Hb. A recent randomized controlled trial found no apparent benefit of EPO on relevant performance markers has sometimes been cited to shed doubt on the true effects of the drug (47). However, this study was done in cyclists with an average V̇O2max of 55.6 mL/kg/min, which is substantially lower than their professional counterparts (124). By his own account, former professional Michael Rasmussen saw his hematocrit (Hct) drop from 41% to 36% following the 2002 Giro d’Italia (98), illustrating how blood composition can be severely perturbed by training and racing. Similar values have been observed in other professionals following participation in Grand Tours (17, 89). Using Rasmussen as an example, using rHuEPO to bring this up to 49%, just below the old 50% limit, would represent a relative Hct increase of 36% and result in improved ability to maintain a much higher intensity in training and racing, and consequently greater exercise-induced adaptations.

Throughout the 90s, Grand Tour riders with supraphysiological Hct would traverse France, Italy, and Spain at impressive speeds until it all seemingly came to an end in 1998. Three days before the start of the 85th edition of the TdF, a Festina team car carrying various PEDs was stopped by customs agents at the French-Belgian border. This event marked the start of what later became known as the Festina affair, a major catalyst in cycling’s transition to a cleaner sport. The wake of this scandal saw an increasing number of calls to action against doping, including by the driver of the Festina car (132), with claims of the sport dying unless drastic action is taken. Subsequent large-scale doping cases such as Operación Puerto and the contents of the USADA’s Reasoned Decision Report (10) served as reminders that PEDs were still present in the peloton and strengthened the resolve of those fighting for a cleaner sport.
Although riders are often blamed for the pervasive drug use in cycling, most entered a sport with a lack of top-down anti-doping efforts, leaving them with the difficult choice of either conforming to the culture or competing on unequal terms. One of the most crucial steps towards a cleaner sport is a change in culture among teams and riders. Much, if not most, of the credit should go to the riders themselves, many of which have actively pushed against the use of PEDs for years (46, 50, 59, 85, 130). Today, most doping cases in cycling are among semi-professional riders, whereas the number of riders testing positive at the highest level is approaching zero (88).

Although absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, fewer doping cases at the highest level of cycling suggests that overt, systematic drug use is a thing of the past. Given professional cycling’s checkered history, it would be naïve to think that doping has been eliminated entirely, but the sport does appear to have evolved beyond doping being perceived as all but necessary to gain entry into the professional peloton. Generational shifts not only among riders, but also among governing bodies and team leadership have contributed to an overall firmer stance against doping, removing potentially significant contributors to anti-doping violations (6). There is also indications that the post-Armstrong generation, especially those who started their careers young, are less likely to use PEDs (5), although the evidence is equivocal (64). Additionally, anti-doping technology continues to improve, with recent advances such as gene expression analysis being able to extend the detection window of blood manipulations (28, 133).

Conceptual approaches to legal performance development

It could be argued that the extraordinary performances regularly being on display by the current generation of riders suggest that the dismantling of systematic doping practices has led to progression rather than regression of the sport of cycling. The transition away from prevalent PED use has forced teams and riders to seek out other areas of improvement, some with barely measurable effects, to keep up. Although seeking improvements in many areas is not a new phenomenon in professional cycling, it has received increasing attention over the past decade with the success of Team Sky, now INEOS Grenadiers, and team director, Dave Brailsford, who called this concept “marginal gains”. Brailsford and his team set out to win the TdF within five years with a clean British rider (29). To achieve this, he brought with him the approach he used as a performance director for British Cycling, which had led to considerable success in track cycling. Team Sky was established on the back of British dominance in the Laoshan velodrome during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where they took home seven gold medals. As he transitioned from the track to the road, Brailsford brought the idea that compiling enough marginal gains could provide a greater performance advantage than PEDs (87).

Although the marginal gain concept came to prominence with Team Sky during one of professional cycling’s most recent avowed shift from banned to legal performance-enhancing strategies, it has been practiced by cyclists since at least the mid-1900s. Italian Fausto Coppi, who rode to multiple victories in the TdF and Giro d’Italia, as well as in one-day classics throughout the 40s and early 50s, was an early adopter of novel diet and training approaches. After World War II, the sport of cycling was anything but advanced and Coppi set out to change that. He worked with Bianchi to develop bikes and other equipment; he adapted his diet to better fuel his riding – not only its contents, but also the timing and amount; and he explored strategies for how to best race as a team (37). Some of these developments would later influence other greats, such as Eddie Merckx, who, among other things, was obsessed with proper bike fit (38). Current director of the French national team, Cyrille Guimard, has also long been known for his application of cutting-edge technology and training methods. One of his former riders, Laurent Fignon, described him as being “right up-to-date. He had files for everything. He was interested in all the lates training methods. Where his protégés were concerned, he would look at the very last detail and even the slightest defect would be corrected. He knew how to ensure everyone had the very best equipment that was on the market: made-to-measure bikes, the newest gadgets.” (32, p. 56).

 The notion that modern riders can surpass past performances solely through legal performance strategies rests on the assumption that these strategies, particularly when combined, are highly effective. Furthermore, a larger pool of athletes and an earlier onset of structured athletic development might amplify these effects. The following section explores the degree of improvement that can be made in the areas of training, nutrition, and technology.

There is not a single anthropometric or physiological characteristic that is completely uniform across high-level cyclists (65, 111). Those with elite potential tend to have stand-out absolute measurements of aerobic fitness and power, but these are attributes that can also be found in cyclists of lower caliber. Elite riders also possess very high power-to-weigh ratios, typically expressed as watts per kilogram (W/kg). An emerging concept that may also distinguish riders of different caliber is durability, i.e., the point and degree of physiological decline during extended exercise (66, 79, 80). Laboratory measurements of key performance determinants such as power-to-weigh ratio, V̇O2max, cycling economy, critical power, and peak power output provide a detailed physiological profile of each individual rider but cannot accurately predict real-life performance.

Training Strategies

Aided by technology, experience, and insights from a growing body of research, training is more refined, structured, and supervised than before, with most, if not all, training sessions serving a specific purpose. Each rider typically follows an individualized training plan that is carried out under comprehensive monitoring of variables such as heart rate, power output, climate, and terrain. These data, along with laboratory measurements, race outcomes, and even psychological variables, are used to adjust volume, frequency, intensity, and/or modality throughout the season. This allows each rider to absorb as much recoverable training volume as possible to optimize physiological adaptations and peak repeatedly for competition while avoiding overtraining. Whereas virtually every single pedal stroke of the modern rider is quantified and analyzed to guide training, racing, and recovery, riders of the past relied more on “feel”, often opting for subjective rather than objective measurements of output. During the 1987 TdF, Laurent Fignon declared his legs to be “functioning again, more or less”, but did not see the value in monitoring his heart rate, explaining that “I lost my temper with those blasted pulse monitors: I handed mine back so that it wouldn’t tell me anything anymore” (32, p. 182).

Although W/kg is often favored as an indicator of riding capacity and a way to quantify cycling performances, a large V̇O2max has long been considered a basic requirement of entry into the professional peloton. Values reported for GC contenders are generally comparable between generations, with the lowest value found in the most dominant TdF rider of all time, albeit with an asterisk (table 1). There are a few caveats to these numbers, such as the validity of the actual measurement, most of which are not described in the research literature but rather in media. Moreover, oxygen uptake does not increase in proportion to body mass and scaling V̇O2max to whole body mass is thus not appropriate when comparing athletes of different body sizes (71). Although some of these values may be exacerbated by PED use, both the baseline level and plasticity of V̇O2max are under considerable genetic influence (15, 86, 135), and WorldTour levels can be reached without doping in those with sufficient genetic predisposition and appropriate stimulus.

Interestingly, there seems to be a physiological trade-off between efficiency and power, where adaptations towards the latter may attenuate the former (72, 113). This phenomenon was observed in Norwegian cyclist, Oskar Svendsen, who once had the highest V̇O2max ever recorded. Svendsen showed promise early by becoming junior time trial champion with less than three years of training and placing high in Tour de l’Avenir. However, despite an incredible V̇O2max of 96.7 ml/kg/min at 18 years of age, Svendsen never became a WorldTour rider. Although his early retirement at age 20 left his potential at the elite level largely unexplored, the reduction in cycling economy he experienced with increased training load could have been resolved as he matured as a rider, as cyclists appear to become more efficient over the span of their careers with little change in V̇O2max (112). If he remained active, Svendsen may eventually have been able to exploit his incredible baseline to reach the proverbial second speed in the modern peloton without chemical assistance. These insights into Svendsen’s physiological profile not only reveal some of the physiological complexities involved in high-level endurance performance, but also serve as an example of the scientific resources available to modern teams and riders that allows for a level of detail in the assessment and follow-up of athletes never seen before at that level of the sport.

Among the many training-related advances in the modern era is a more systematic approach to altitude training. Altitude-mediated erythropoiesis has long been recognized as an exposure that can produce adaptations that improves performance at sea level, as well as acclimatize athletes to sustain performance in hypobaric conditions. There are several ways to approach altitude training and care should be taken to avoid carrying the detrimental effects of prolonged hypoxic exposure, such as reduced cardiac output (Q̇) due to hypovolemia (117), into competition. Today, professional cycling teams rely on both experience as well as past and emerging research to use altitude as an important preparatory measure in various parts of the season. As the individual responses to hypoxic conditions can vary greatly (93), a large hematological response following real or simulated altitude exposure is an important attribute in modern riders. If done properly, altitude training can induce comparable hematological changes to rHuEPO use (table 2), making it a crucial performance-enhancing strategy in the modern peloton. Increasing [Hb] not only improves V̇O2max by improving the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood (43), it also enables sustained work at a higher fraction of maximal capacity (40) and faster V̇O2 kinetics (18), which can be hugely influential in a peloton with limited interindividual difference in V̇O2max.

A more recent strategy to legally induce hematological adaptations is heat acclimation. Prolonged exposure to heat is associated with both increased plasma volume, which can improve stroke volume and consequently Q̇ and V̇O2max, as well as an expansion of total hemoglobin mass (Hbmass) (91). In fact, light exercise in a heated environment five times per week has been shown to increase Hbmass by 3% – 11% in endurance athletes (90, 103, 107). Due to the logistical challenges and cost related to with altitude camp designs such as live high-train low, heat acclimation training may offer a more accessible strategy for riders and teams with less resources, or an additional stimulus to regular stays at altitude.
The mechanistic similarities between synthetic and natural causes of erythropoiesis makes it physiologically possible to harness the benefits of EPO without doping. Voet (132) recounts that pre-scandal Festina riders did not even bring EPO to altitude camps because it was going to be “useless”. Describing his first stay at altitude, formerly enhanced rider, Thomas Dekker, wrote that “[t]he altitude works its magic: the thin air jolts my body into producing extra red blood cells and the Swiss Tour is the first race in ages where I can stay with the pace on the climbs” (25, p. 135), expressing relief that he could hang with the peloton without PEDs. Michele Ferrari, Lance Armstrong’s coach during the height of his career, argues that the effects of EPO on hemoglobin concentration can be achieved through proper altitude training alone (31).

Every rider in the professional peloton possesses rare abilities as cyclists. Given that the sport selects for individuals with above average baseline values of [Hb] and Hct, it may not take much stimulus to maintain a high level. However, compared to simply administering rHuEPO, strategies such as altitude training and heat acclimation are more complex undertakings, partly because of potential drawbacks with that must be accounted for, such as transiently reduced Q̇ and altered dietary requirements. The financial cost associated with prolonged exposure to altitude and/or heat for a professional team is also a considerable barrier, as the finances of teams can differ greatly. In some cases, PED use might simply just be more practical than legal strategies, and not necessarily more powerful.

Improving oxygen delivery and utilization have been main training targets for cyclists throughout most of its history, while resistance training (RT) has been largely neglected. As the impact of both power output and oxygen consumption on cycling performance is intrinsically related to rider weight, maintaining a low body mass has been, and still is, imperative. However, RT with an emphasis on neural adaptations can substantially improve force-generating capacity and reduce the oxygen cost of exercise in athletes without adding unnecessary bulk (51-53, 140). It also helps maintain bone mineral density, which elite cyclists are prone to lose (48, 110). A recent study found that RT with traditional movements and individualized load improved bone mineral density and endurance performance in professional cyclists (126). Moreover, it appeared to improve strength, power, and body composition to a greater degree than short sprint training, a more traditional power training modality for cyclists, supporting the role of structured RT as a part of a professional cyclists overall training program. Indeed, evidence for the benefit of RT on cycling performance has been mounting over the past years (table 3) (62, 102, 104-106, 108, 109, 120, 131, 141). This has contributed to changing the way RT is perceived and applied in the.

An elite physiology is easier to perturb than improve. At the highest level of cycling, large adaptations to training are unlikely to occur in the short term. The full, natural potential of a rider can only be reached via the cumulative effects of proper training and recovery, both of which are highly dependent on proper fueling.
Nutrition, body composition, and supplementation

In Jørgen Leth’s classic documentary, “A Sunday in Hell”, Roger De Vlaeminck can be seen consuming a plate of meat with his team before setting out to defend his multiple Paris–Roubaix victories from the previous years in the 1976 edition, with the narrator explaining that “a rare steak is a good breakfast for what lies ahead” (67). This is in stark contrast to the low-residue diet often consumed by riders in the modern peloton (39). A low-residue diet is characterized by a very low fiber content, which can reduce rider weight and consequently improve race performance (36). This diet is usually combined with a very high carbohydrate intake throughout a race to ensure constant glucose availability, and the reduced satiety that can be associated with low-residue diets may even help a rider maintain energy intake during a race. The exact amount differs between riders, with numbers around 100 g of carbohydrate per hour being a rough estimate that may be exceeded considerably on hard days. The recognition of the added performance benefit of increased carbohydrate intake has given rise to the concept of gut training for athletes (56, 78). Racing hard for hours on end for multiple consecutive days with limited glucose availability is guaranteed to hamper performance compared to a well-fueled athlete; as red blood cells do not convert to adenosine triphosphate; blood doping cannot replace bioenergetic fuel.

There are some examples of riders that leveraged nutrition to increase their performance throughout history, such as Fausto Coppi (37), but in the modern era, all riders pay attention and have access to both nutritionists and chefs, both of which are roles that have become integral parts of professional teams. Riders also have access to more knowledge and tools, such as food apps powered by machine learning (121). The days of training hard during the day following by alcohol consumption in the evening and racing on the weekends are gone, but were reportedly common until fairly recently (25, 54). The culmination of evidence- and experience-based diets in professional cycling has led to better fueling strategies and lower body mass in the peloton and perhaps especially among the best riders.

Although described as “thin as rakes” (132, p. 63), the riders of the 90s were heavy by today’s standard. Laurent Fignon (32) explains that the importance of power-to-weight ratio did not become known among the riders before the mid-80s and that he, until that point, paid little attention to diet. Looking at the top 10 finishers of the TdF for the past four decades, starting with the latest edition, suggest that it is becoming more and more of a requirement for the overall GC placing (table 4). Notably, between 1992 and 2022, the average BMI of the top 10 decreased by 8.1%. This trend seems to generally hold across all Grand Tours for the past decades (118).

Supplements such as creatine and beta-alanine have been shown to improve endurance performance, including in cycling (7, 12, 21, 49, 127, 128). Creatine was introduced to the peloton in the mid-90s but was very expensive at the time. Riders who had access to it could consume up to 30 g the day before a long time trial or a mountain stage in hopes of a performance boost (132). Creatine and beta-alanine are now both affordable and widely used, alongside other supplements such as caffeine, electrolytes, nitrates, various vitamins, and minerals, as well as macronutrient supplements such as protein and carbohydrate.

In recent years, a lot of attention has been devoted to exogenous ketones. It is a contentious supplement that has been embraced some of the strongest teams while being recommended against by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC). Ketones, or ketone bodies, are acetyl-CoA-derived metabolites that are produced by the liver under conditions with reduced glucose availability, such as low-carbohydrate diets, fasting, and during or after hard exercise. Ketone bodies such as β-hydroxybutyrate can spare glycogen by inhibiting glycolysis and acting as an alternative fuel in oxidative phosphorylation, which in turn can improve endurance (19). As with the research on other legal and illegal enhancement strategies, the degree to which exogenous ketones translates to improved exercise performance remains to be fully elucidated (24, 92, 94, 96, 125, 139). Although there may be potential drawbacks with isolated ketone supplementation (82), in conjunction with sodium bicarbonate, which is a weak base that has been used for some time in endurance sports (45), ketone supplementation has been shown to improve power output towards the end of a race simulation by 5% (95), although this effect may be unreliable and warrants further study (97).

Much of the hype surrounding some of the proposed effect of ketones as an energy substrate appears unwarranted, but emerging evidence suggest that it may have intriguing properties as a signaling molecule. A few years ago, it was shown that infusion of ketone bodies increased circulating EPO levels in healthy adults (63). The impact of ketones on EPO is supported by the observation that adherence to a ketogenic diet can increase [Hb] and Hct by ~3%, with the caveat this effect is within the biological variation of these markers (83). Recently, Evans et al. (30) found that ingestion of ketone monoester after cycling exercise increased serum EPO concentration, providing further evidence that it may be the signaling effects rather than nutritional value of ketone supplements confers the greatest performance benefit for professional cyclists.

Technology and equipment
Science tends to be reductionistic by necessity, whereas a cycling race is much more open-ended. There is, however, a certain cycling event that is performed in highly controlled conditions and relies heavily on technological advances that can serves as a good example of marginal gains in modern road cycling: the hour record. In 1972, Eddy Merckx, perhaps the greatest cyclist of all time, rode a distance of 49.431 km to set a new hour record for the first time since the 1950s. Twelve years later, Francesco Moser breached 50 km with an effort totaling 51.151 km, aided by disc wheels and a skin suit. The following years would see various innovative approaches by riders such as Graeme Obree and Chris Boardman, until the UCI decided to revise the rules in 1994 and again in 2014 (table 5). To set his records, Boardman worked closely with Brailsford’s predecessor in British Cycling, Peter Keen, and then later with Brailsford himself after his retirement, on what would be the beginning of British riders’ marginal gains on the track and later in the peloton (14).

From Voigt’s first attempt to Ganna’s latest, the modern hour record has been improved by over 11%. Although Ganna is a multiple World Time Trial champion and likely one of the most suitable riders to attempt the record, the last person to hold the record before him was Daniel Bigham, the only rider on the list that was never a WorldTour rider. Although an accomplished cyclist in his own right, Bigham’s record is a prime example of how far and fast you can get by maximizing the margins, with his record being set at an average power output approximately 100 watts less than Wiggins. Bigham himself puts his performance down to 50% physiology and 50% equipment (137). One of the main aspects Bigham exploited was aerodynamics; his coefficient of aerodynamic drag (CdA) was ~0.15, which is considerably below what is commonly seen in cyclists, including professionals (41).

Aerodynamics is not only relevant when riding fast around a velodrome for an hour, but also one of the most important things to consider when trying to ride fast on a bike in general. At a riding speed of about 54 km/h, close to the average on a flat TdF stage, approximately 90% of the total resistance is aerodynamic resistance (13, 44). Most of the resistance is caused by the rider himself, with common estimates ranging from 60-82% (74), and the rest by other factors such as equipment (22, 73, 77). The importance of minimizing CdA underlies much of the development of modern bike frames, wheels, handlebars, helmets, clothing, and more. In recent years, there has been less emphasis from manufacturers on getting their bikes down to the UCI weight limit of 6.8 kg in favor of more aerodynamic optimizations. This approach is supported by findings showing that simply opting for aerodynamic rather than light wheels will reduce climbing time on 3% – 6% grade hills (57). Steeper hills favor lighter wheels and WorldTour riders often make specific selections of wheelset, gear ratio, and even frameset based on race or stage profile. Some teams take it a step further, such as Jumbo-Visma, who use a portable aero sensor to measure exact wind conditions on race day and make equipment selections accordingly (81).

Since the inception of professional cycling there have been numerous technological advances and there is still a steady flow of innovations reaching the peloton. Some of these become widely adopted, such as aero-optimized gear; some are providing new alternatives without replacing old ones, such as tubeless tires (riders still use a variety of tubed, tubeless, and tubular tires); and others are replacing without immediately improving a function, such as disc brakes. Technology has also enabled more extensive monitoring of athletes, both on and more recently off the bike. For instance, several teams are now measuring body temperature and hydration status, and by analyzing the individual sodium composition sweat, can select the appropriate supplementary amount of sodium for each rider. During very hot days, riders are often seen wearing cooling gear to keep body temperature down. This can not only keep the riders comfortable, but may also benefit their performance in the race by lowering thermal strain (75).

Although professional cycling continues to benefit from science, technology, and engineering, the UCI have rules and regulations in place that ensures that cycling does not, for better or worse, stray too far away from its origins. Although these are subject to change based on new developments, they sometimes can become more restrictive, such as the recent ban on handlebars narrower than 350mm. Riders with the ability and resources to combine effective performance strategies from training, nutrition, recovery, and technology – perhaps especially strategies with small effects that are more likely to be ignored by others – may find themselves able to ride at a different speed than the rest of the peloton.

Merging the margins

Imagine a gifted and durable athlete with an exceptional ability to consume oxygen across all intensity domains, maintain a low body mass, effectively utilize lactate, absorb and recover from a high training load without injury or illness, handle training and race nutrition, thermoregulate in various climates, and respond well to altitude and heat exposure finding his or her way into cycling early in life. Suppose this young cyclist learns to maintain an aerodynamic position on the bike, pedal with an efficient cadence, move seamlessly through the peloton, avoid accidents, calmly handle the pressure of competition, and execute winning moves. Professional cycling selects for individuals with supraphysiological potential from environments that have allowed this potential to be expressed. Then, it awards those who have made it to the starting line and are able make as many performance determinants as possible come together on race day.

Increased professionalism at the highest level of the sport trickles down to the amateur and junior ranks, exposing up-and-coming cyclists to favorable conditions at an earlier age, leading to greater improvements in physiology, psychology, and race craft. Some riders may show incredible promise in some aspects of racing and struggle with others. Oskar Svendsen, V̇O2max world record holder, undoubtedly had one of the greatest physiological potentials ever seen in a rider. However, he admittedly also had technical and tactical challenges: “Cycling is a monotonous sport, yet so complex and driven by tactics that you won’t win races unless you deliver on all those qualities. I came into the sport with good physical qualities, but I struggled most with the tactics and patterns. I did learn a lot in my senior years on Team Joker though, even if I still had a long way to go. Descending down hills was also something I struggled a lot with, and it sapped much of my energy in races.” (99) Svendsen’s career serves as an example of how cycling is not only a physiological sport, but also technical, tactical, and psychological. Recently retired rider, Richie Porte, described former TdF GC winners Chris Froome and Tadej Pogačar as “psychological beasts” and noted that cycling has become increasingly scientific, which does not suit all riders (35). Modern riders are more methodical, data driven, and regimented than before. This reduces the human element of the sport, to the dismay of those claiming that this will increase predictability. Some researchers in the field have also warned against measuring just for the sake of measuring, and advise that rider data should serve a specific purpose (55).

The widely established routine of constant fueling during training and racing not only acutely increase work capacity but also improves subsequent recovery by preventing the rider from becoming completely depleted. This is in stark contrast to the days when reaching for your bottle during a hard training ride, even if it only contained water, was considered a weakness. Paul Köchli, former coach of riders such as Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond, once said that the art of cycling is to do the right thing at the right moment (27). This is true not only in the context of a race, but indeed for the professional cyclist’s career as a whole. The effects of proper training, nutrition, and recovery accumulate not only throughout a season, but a whole career, benefitting those who consistently do the right things from early on.

Conclusion and future perspectives

In some ways, modern approaches to improving cycling performance represent a first principles approach to cycling and a fundamental challenge of conventions, within the rules and regulations of UCI. It seems to have restored some of the faith in the sport that was once lost with various doping scandals. Given the measurable impacts of legal performance-enhancing strategies, many of which were previously unknown or overlooked, it could be argued that combining these effects can bring a clean rider’s performance close to, or even surpass, that of an enhanced cyclist, assuming a gifted baseline and sufficient degree of adaptability.

Suggesting that it is possible to win at the highest level in cycling without the use of PEDs is not the same as claiming that the sport is completely clean. As others have pointed out, periods that have previously been perceived as clean have later been shown to be anything but (26). This paper covers some of the key legal advances in road cycling that has contributed to elite performances in the modern peloton, while at the same time acknowledging that illegal strategies may still be present.

Much of what was once considered “marginal gains” have now become common in all professional cycling teams. This represents a shift from a culture of doping to a culture of exhaustive continuous improvement, a lot of which is kept under wraps and some that may even be considered a grey area. Effective anti-doping measures contribute to a more level playing field, but not entirely level. The teams with the most resources often get the most talented riders, allowing them to combine the greatest potential with the best strategies. And even still, there are some who favor optimizing riders and their equipment for weight rather than aerodynamics, ignoring the latter to the extent that it becomes a considerable detriment. In an era of professional cycling where individual performances are influenced by a multitude of human and nonhuman factors, which in combination can have profound effects, the existence of two-speed cycling in a clean peloton is not only logical – it should be expected.

Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). The author would like to thank Dr. Endre T. Nesse and Dr. Fabio G. Laginestra for their comments and feedback on the manuscript.

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2024-02-22T11:24:51-06:00February 23rd, 2024|Research, Sport Education, Sport Training, Sports Coaching, Sports Health & Fitness, Sports Medicine, Sports Nutrition|Comments Off on Can there be two speeds in a clean peloton? Performance strategies in modern road cycling

The Real Cause of Losing Sports Officials

Authors: Matthew J Williams D.S.M., M.B.A. M.S.

Department of Education, The University of Virginia’s College at Wise, Wise, VA, USA

Corresponding Author:

Dr. Matthew Williams
The University of Virginia’s College at Wise
2001 Greenbriar Drive
Bristol, VA 24202

Matthew J. Williams D.S.M., M.B.A., M.S., is an Associate Professor of Sport Management at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise. His areas of research interest include NASCAR, COVID-19, college athletics, professional sports, and sport management issues..

The Real Cause of Losing Sports Officials

ABSTRACT

Purpose

Recreational Sports, Junior Highschool Sports, and Highschool Sports are witnessing across all types of sports a decline in sports officials. Athletic directors in all three levels have seen a steadily declined in sports officials in the last twenty years. But since the COVID-19 Pandemic, the lack of sports officials has increased so rapidly that it could eventually become a nationwide crisis. The pandemic may have caused the decline of sports officials but it was not the only cause. The age of the sports officials has played a role in the decline of the sport’s officials. But the true main cause of losing sports officials has been the lack of respect for the sport’s officials through the behavior of players, coaches, family members, and sports fans.

Keywords Sports Officials, Players, Coaches, Fans, COVID-19 Pandemic, Respect.

Introduction

Recreational Sports, Junior High School Sports, and High School Sports are all witnessing a lack of sports officials all across the United States. There are so many theories out there on why we are losing sports officials so rapidly. If you have attended a sporting event lately and looked at the sports officials, a constant trend you will witness is the sports officials’ increasing ages and the lack of sports officials that are able to cover the sporting events. The repercussions of the lack of sports officials are already being felt. What is the true reason we are losing sports officials? Did COVID-19 Pandemic play a role in the loss of sports officials, the current age of sports officials, or the constant verbal abuse or threats to sports officials?

Discussion

Even before the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic Virus, it was apparent to recreational athletic directors, and athletic directors at both junior high and high school that they were already seeing a steady decline in sports officials across the United States over the past decade. The scarcity of officials is a long-running problem in high school sports. (6) From the 2018-19 school year to 2021-22, 32 of 38 states reporting statistics have seen registration numbers of officials drop, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations data. (1) Over the last decade, there has been a steady decline in the amount of referees available. In 2018, the Michigan High School Athletic Association reported that amount of referees available dropped from 12,400 to around 10,000 over the previous decade. (11)

The start of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the spring of 2020 forced a majority of recreational sports, junior high and high school sports across the United States to cease operations and shut down all games until further notice. This action of shutting down all games caused some officials to walk away from officiating. Simply because there were no games for the sports officials to work. As a result of the shutdown, officials had a chance to evaluate if they wanted to return to officiating. So many sports officials did not return to officiate games because of numerous reasons in the fall of 2020 or the spring of 2021. The Alabama High School Athletic Association is working hard to recruit and retain officials in all sports after losing more than 1,000 after the COVID-19 shutdown in the spring of 2020. (2) Washington said the association lost more than 1,100 officials after the COVID-19 shutdown. (2)

In the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021, some of the COVID-19 Pandemic restrictions were lifted and sports returned to somewhat normalcy. However, some officials decided not to return to officiating simply because of their age. There is a concern by some the impact of COVID-19 might hasten the retirement of older officials. (8)

The average age of the sports official was between 45 and 60 and it played a major role in the sports officials’ decision either to continue to be sports officials or not to be a sports official. Officials tend to be near or beyond retirement age the median age for a football referee is 56, according to the National Association of Sports Officials survey. (6) 77% of current officials are over the age of 45, with slightly more than half over the age of 55. (12)

The average age of the sports officials was at least 45 or older during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The COVID-19 Pandemic forced some older sports officials to choose not to return to officiating because simply of the underlying healthcare issues from the COVID-19 Pandemic. Some officials chose not to work during the pandemic because of health/safety concerns, and some of them chose not to return at all. (17) “In talking to some of the state directors, many of these losses are people who were probably on the brink of retirement, and then COVID kind of forced the issue,” explains Dana Pappas, NFHS director of officiating services. (15) The pandemic has also pushed a growing number of referees out, with officials leaving out of fear of getting sick. (16)

During the fall of 2021, some governors across the United States mandated that state employees must be fully vaccinated to prevent and/or limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This mandate forced many officials to choose whether to get the COVID-19 vaccination or not get the COVID-19 vaccination. If the sport’s official chose not to take the COVID-19 vaccination due to fears of the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccination or for religious beliefs, they would be banned from officiating junior high school and/or high school games. This mandate forced many officials to stop officiating resulting in a smaller pool of available officials to officiate games. “We already have a shortage of officials, not just in football but other sports,” Weber said”. “That (vaccine requirement) will reduce our numbers, based on what we’re hearing from our officials.” (3) The COVID-19 Pandemic resulted in some officials deciding not to return to officiating, creating an already smaller pool of available officials to officiate games. COVID-19 accelerated the problem, without question. (9)

Today’s parents are more invested financially than ever in their children’s sports careers. Parents are financially supporting their children’s sports careers through travel teams, summer leagues, specialized camps, personal training, and individual lessons. In the hopes that their child will either be drafted into professional sports or earn a college scholarship. Parents being so financially invested has caused an explosion of verbal abuse or threats toward officials from parents. Parents want the best outcomes for their children and are not afraid to voice their opinion to officials either by verbal abuse or threatening officials. Barrett theorized that the rise of travel teams in baseball —not to mention AAU teams in basketball and specialized camps for young football players — has caused parents to feel much more invested in their kids’ athletic careers, both financially and emotionally. (9) The parents feel more emboldened now than ever and are not afraid to voice their opinion verbally toward officials due to the fact they are so financially invested in their children’s sports careers. The parents feel strongly that they deserve the best officials to call the games because they have invested so much financially. “Parents have this sense of entitlement,” Barrett said. “They’re paying so much money, they think they should have better umpires.” (9) “These parents have this mentality of. ‘We pay all this money and travel all this way we expect the best, and referees can’t make mistakes.’ It’s based on society saying it’s okay to yell at people in public if they’re not giving you what they want. It’s asinine.” (13) “The problem is that, as parents spend more time and money on children’s sports, families are “coming to these sporting events with professional-level expectations,” said Jerry Reynolds, a professor of social work at Ball State University who studies the dynamics of youth sports and parent behavior. (7)

Aggressive behavior of abuse toward officials from coaches, players, parents, and fans started well before the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020. “Before COVID, I felt like this behavior was reaching its peak,” Barlow said. (13) The aggressive behavior toward officials did not stop after the COVID-19 Pandemic was over. But some feel that the abuse of officials has increased resulting in the loss of more officials. Society of today has now become a custom of unruly behavior toward officials, players, and fans. The old saying, I paid my general admission ticket, gives me the right to berate an official, an opposing player, or a coach. This mentality has allowed more aggressiveness toward officials. Parents, coaches, and fans are increasingly aggressive toward officials. (4) People have had seemingly free license to scream, taunt and hurl insults at sporting events — acting out in ways they never would at work, the grocery store, or the dentists office. (14)

Officials have had enough of this type of abusive behavior, which is a major reason why we are losing officials so quickly. No official wants to be verbally abused, harassed, or threatened. Such unruly behavior is the driving force, referees say, behind a nationwide shortage of youth sports officials. (7) We have had the problem of losing officials because of the lack of respect toward officials from parents, family members, and fans well before the COVID-19 Pandemic. The shortfall has persisted for years, as rowdy parents, coaches, and players have created a toxic environment that has driven referees away and hampered the recruitment of new ones, referees say. (7)

The coaches, athletes, parents, family members, and fans of today no longer value or demand sportsmanlike behavior. We now accept unsportsmanlike behavior. Which consists of disrespect or lack of respect for officials through verbal abuse, threats, or harassment. Because we are accepting and allowing this type of behavior from coaches, athletes, parents family members, and fans. This is one of the main reasons why we are losing so many sports officials. “The un-sportsman like conduct of coaches, as well as some parents put people off and they don’t want to come back, they don’t want to return. They get yelled at during their days at work,” added Gittelson. (5) The shortage of officials in high school – and middle school – sports has been a growing concern for several years – in large part due to unsportsmanlike behavior by parents and other adult fans. (10)

Conclusions

The lack of sports officials is becoming a critical situation that recreational athletic directors, junior high school, and high school athletic directors will be facing in the coming years. Some sports officials are deciding to retire because of their age or knowing that their bodies can no longer keep pace with the speed of the game that they are officiating. This is creating a smaller pool of officials from the standpoint that the average age of the sport’s official is at least 45.

The COVID-19 pandemic did play somewhat of a role in reducing of sports officials that we are in right now. The pandemic brought health scares and mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations to some sports officials resulting in these officials making the decision to not return to officiating. But the real cause of the shortage of sports officials is simply the respect that is not given to the sports official by coaches, parents, family members, and fans. The behavior from coaches, parents, family members, and fans of yelling at sports officials, questioning sports officials’ calls, threats of violence towards sports officials, cursing at sports events, and even battery towards sports officials is out of control. No sports official wants to deal with this type of behavior at all nor should this type of behavior be allowed. This is the main reason why we are seeing the pool of sports officials becoming smaller. State legislation, superintendents of schools, principals of schools, and county commissioners need to address this issue of out-of-control behavior toward sports officials. If they do not, we will witness games being canceled, cancellation of seasons, and drastic pay increases that will be demanded by sports officials for the abuse.

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2024-02-15T12:01:06-06:00February 16th, 2024|Contemporary Sports Issues, General, Sports Coaching, Sports Management, Sports Studies|Comments Off on The Real Cause of Losing Sports Officials

BOOK REVIEW: Organizational Behavior in Sport Management: An Applied Approach to Understanding People and Groups

Authors: Chenghao Ma

School of Humanities and Social Science, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, China

Corresponding Author:

Chenghao Ma
2001 Longxiang Blvd.,
Shenzhen, China 518172
machenghao@cuhk.edu.cn

Chenghao Ma is now at the School of Humanities and Social Science, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen.

BOOK REVIEW: Organizational Behavior in Sport Management: An Applied Approach to Understanding People and Groups

Barnhill, C. R., Smith N. L., & Oja, B. D. (2021). Organizational behavior in sport management: An applied approach to understanding people and groups. Palgrave Macmillan.

(more…)
2024-02-07T08:36:27-06:00February 9th, 2024|Book Reveiws, Sports Management|Comments Off on BOOK REVIEW: Organizational Behavior in Sport Management: An Applied Approach to Understanding People and Groups

Analysis of Factors Influencing the College Choice Decisions of NCAA Division I International Student-Athletes

Authors: Bryan Romsa1, Katelyn Romsa 2, Jon Lim3, and Agatha Ampaire4

1Associate Professor of Sport Management, South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD. USA
2Associate Professor of Counseling and Human Development, South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD. USA
3Associate Professor of Sport Management, Minnesota State University, Mankato, MN. USA
4 Career Education Coordinator, South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD. USA.

Corresponding Author:

Jon Lim, EdD
Associate Professor, Sports Management
Minnesota State University, Mankato
1400 Highland Center
Mankato, MN 56001
Phone:507-389-5231
Jon.Lim@msnu.edu

Bryan Romsa, EdD is an Associate Professor of Sport Management at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD. His research interests include recruitment and retention of NCAA student-athletes and sport exit planning of NCAA student-athletes.

Katelyn Romsa, EdD is an Associate Professor of Counseling and Human Development with an emphasis on the Administration of Student Affairs at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD. Her research interests include recruitment and retention of college students and supervision models to maximize student success.

Jon Lim, EdD is an Associate Professor of Sport Management at Minnesota State University in Mankato, MN. His research interests include technology use in education and college choice decisions of NCAA athletes.

Agatha Ampaire, PhD is the Career Education Coordinator at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD.

Analysis of Factors Influencing the College Choice Decisions of NCAA Division I International Student-Athletes

ABSTRACT

To examine the factors influencing the college choice decisions of NCAA Division I International Student-Athletes, one on one in-depth interviews were conducted with eight international student-athletes (n=8) representing different countries, at a Division 1 university in the Midwest region of the USA. Interview questions were developed using the Student-Athlete College Choice Profile Survey (SACCPS) and were formulated to maximize the depth and breadth of interviewee responses. Results indicated that the head coach, availability of the academic major, and the availability of scholarships were the top reasons for choice of school. Seven of the participants did not visit the school prior to their decision but heavily relied on the coach, other international athletes, and internet searches. Taking time to build relationships with and provide information to international student-athletes maybe paramount to their recruitment.


Key Words: college athletics, coaching, recruiting,

INTRODUCTION

There is a general increase in the number of international student-athletes who participate in intercollegiate sports in the USA (Abbey-Pinegar, 2010; Chepyator-Thomson et al., 2016). This is partly because of the increased competitiveness of college athletics and the rising stakes; winning has become very important for schools (Weston, 2006). Recruiting and training of high caliber international athletes is seen as fundamental to the success of sports teams (Falcous & Maguire, 2005). Recruiting internationally is particularly important for smaller mid-major NCAA schools because they are more likely to be out competed for domestic talent by top tier institutions. International student-athletes are recruited using a variety of methods, prominent among the methods being professional contacts within the country of origin, and recruitment at international events, which leads to competition for the elite international students. Most of international student-athletes come from specific countries, hence the terminology ‘talent pipeline’ has been used to describe the sourcing of the athletes (Pierce et al., 2010). Additionally, recently there has been a recent reduction (Zong & Batalova, 2018) in the general number of international students who are choosing to come to the USA which could impact the available pool of international student-athletes. Therefore, understanding factors that influence international student-athletes’ school choice is important, and athletics can be a tool in attracting and retaining international students.

To gain a holistic understanding of international students’ college choice, we examined the literature on reasons why international student-athletes chose to come to the USA, and their experiences and adjustment to their new environment. The reasons why the athletes are interested in coming to the USA may influence the school options and opportunities available to them, while experiences of other international athletes could be an influential factor in choice of school.

Reasons International Student-Athletes Come to the USA

Researchers have classified the reasons that international students give for leaving their home countries into Push and Pull factors. Push factors are undesirable conditions in their country which force the students to seek greener pastures elsewhere, while Pull factors are the attributes of another country which the students find attractive (Chepyator-Thomson et al., 2016; Lee, 2010; Li & Bray, 2007). Many international student-athletes are willing to leave their home country for better opportunities and better economic prospects offered by the USA, to experience a different culture, to obtain an education while also improving their athleticism (Love & Kim, 2011). However, before the Push and Pull factors come into play, the recruiters have to be aware of the student-athlete’s abilities or the student has to be aware of the opportunities available, thus familiarity with the USA system and other social ties such as recommendation from friends or former international athletes plays an important role (Mazzarol & Soutar, 2002).

Adjustment to College and Experiences of International Student-Athletes

Chepyator-Thomson et al. (2016) found that most basketball players were recruited from English speaking countries. Pierce et al. (2011) posited that student-athletes from culturally similar countries to the USA were less likely to experience cultural shock and to adjust readily than other international student-athletes. International student-athletes may also struggle to commit to their teams if they are worried about their academic performance so as not to lose their athletic standing and scholarships (Sato et al., 2011). Additionally, international student- athletes may experience discrimination from teammates and often find it difficult to fit in because of cultural differences (Sato et al., 2018). They may also experience stress as a result of a combination of factors (Arturo, 2014). However, in a study of international student-athlete satisfaction, the athletes expressed overall satisfaction with the dimensions measuring satisfaction, including academic support services, personal treatment, team social contribution and medical support (Trendafilova et al., 2010).

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to examine the factors influencing the college choice decisions of NCAA Division I International Student-Athletes. Some researchers such as Judson et al. (2005) and Kankey and Quarterman (2007) have studied the college choices of international student-athletes, however, in a comprehensive review of extant literature, Pauline (2010) noted that most of the studies on school choice by student-athletes utilized questionnaires. The present study seeks to expand the understanding of  International student-athletes’ university choice by utilizing in-depth interviews to elicit more detailed information and provide explanation that cannot be captured using questionnaires.

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

The conceptual framework for this investigation was guided by a decision-making model developed by Hossler and Gallagher (1987). Hossler and Gallagher’s model is composed of three stages that individuals progress through during the college selection process (predisposition, search, and choice). During the predisposition stage, the athlete decides what path they want to pursue, in this case, they decide if they would like to play within or outside their home country. The search stage is when students weigh their options, they may contact universities of interest, or they evaluate offers they may have received from recruiters. In the choice stage the student has decided to pursue specific options, the student may submit applications to select universities and start working on the immigration process. Interviewers utilized this framework to explain the factors influencing the college choice decisions of international student-athletes.

METHODS

Participants

The participants of this study included eight international student-athletes (6 women and 2 men) who were 18 years or older and participated in golf (n=3) and swimming (n=5) from a FCS Mid-Major Division I, land-grant institution in the Upper Midwest. Participants included 2 freshman, 1 sophomore, 4 juniors, and 1 senior. Purposive sampling was used to select the international student-athletes from the sports with the highest representation of international student-athletes on the roster, which were swimming and golf, respectively. A brief description of these participants is listed in Table 1.

Research Design

This research study utilized a qualitative, phenomenological design to allow for a deeper understanding of the real-life experiences of international student-athletes to explore the factors influencing their college choice when coming to the USA. A phenomenological study was chosen to describe the meaning of the lived experiences for the several individuals who shared a similar concept or phenomenon (Creswell, 2018; Patton, 2015).

Interview Questions

Twenty interview questions were developed using the Student-Athlete College Choice Profile Survey (SACCPS). The interview questions were formulated to maximize the depth and breadth of interviewee responses (Patton, 2015). Student-athletes were purposively chosen to represent the proportion of international student-athletes at the school (i.e. students were chosen from the sports with the highest representation of international student-athletes, which were swimming and golf respectively).

The interviews were conducted using a semi-structed format (Gall et al. 2007). Core questions were the same across participants, but the interviewer varied additional questions depending on responses. Reflective listening and minimal encouragers were used to maximize participant responses and increase the depth of interview content. Allowing slight variations to accommodate the appropriate context and flow of the interview, the interview questions included. Student’s major, country of origin, if the student had athletic opportunities at other institutions what were the reasons that the student selected to attend at this particular institution, and if the student had transferred, what were reasons for transferring to the institution were examined. Also explored were the impacts on the student’s decision of several factors; the head coach and coaching staff, location of the school, the student’s family, the athletic facilities, the degree programs available, the campus visit, the size and location of the university and community, campus life outside of athletics, the academic support services for athletes, the opportunity to compete, knowledge of other international student-athletes, and availability of scholarships. We sought to address three main research questions: (a) Which factor that had the biggest influence on your college choice decision? (b) What advice would you give an international student-athlete trying to decide which institution to compete for in the USA? (c) What do you wish you would have considered before making your college choice decision.

Data Collection

 Data was collected from International student-athletes at a mid-major, NCAA Division I university in the Upper Midwest. Collaboration with the athletic department was used to recruit participants. The principal investigator of this study has developed an ongoing relationship with the athletic department (e.g., coaches, athletic director, administration). From this relationship, the principal investigator has become more knowledgeable and passionate about the choice of student-athlete populations, leading to this research project. Establishing trust and building a strong connection with athletics was instrumental in receiving permission and support from the coaching staff who assisted with recruiting participants. Participants were informed that the study was voluntary and that their withdrawal from the study at any time was allowed as there were no known risks or direct benefits for participating in this study.

The interview participants were briefed about the objective and procedures of the study and assured of anonymity as well as their right to withdraw from the study at any time without penalty. The interviews which lasted 30-45 minutes were conducted in person in a one-on-one setting in a private room and were digitally recorded using audio only. Field notes were also taken during the interviews. Participants were recruited through purposive convenience sampling by the researchers via telephone call, email, text, or in-person. Additionally, the researchers collaborated with the Athletics department at the institution (administrators, coaches, student-athletes) to recruit participants.

Data Analysis

In order to avoid research bias in this study and to ascertain the quality and rigor of the data analysis, the researchers of this study conducted an inductive analysis to understand and identify general patterns, or categories (Patton, 2015). All audio files were transcribed verbatim thematic analysis was used by the researchers to analyze the data. Open coding (Maxwell, 2013) was first achieved by segmenting the data into meaningful expressions or themes based on participant responses. They identified key phrases used by participants in their responses to the open-ended questions. Once themes were identified, analytic triangulation took place where the principal investigator, worked with two peer debriefers to enhance the accuracy of the findings (Creswell, 2018). Each peer debriefer individually identified key phrases and themes that emerged from data. Then each peer debriefer shared their findings with the principle investigator whereby they collectively discussed and identified the themes and their meaning. This process added trustworthiness to the findings and prevented researcher bias by allowing the researchers the opportunity to critically evaluate their themes and make minor modifications to them as they jointly determined was appropriate (Ritchie et al., 2013). Member checking was used to validate interviews by sharing a brief summary of the interview with the research participants (Singer, 2008).

RESULTS

Responses were examined, interpreted, and analyzed from eight male and female, international student-athletes (n=8) representing different countries, at a mid-size Division 1 university in the Midwest region of the USA to examine the factors influencing their college choice decision. Two major themes were found (a) the role of the institution and (b) the role of athletics. Each theme is categorized into extrinsic and intrinsic factors. Extrinsic factors meaning external, coming or operating from the institution or athletics. Intrinsic factors meaning internal, belonging or lying from within the student-athlete.

Role of Institution

Extrinsic factors

Prioritizing academics was paramount from all eight the participants in the study. All students interviewed knew the academic major they wanted to pursue in college, which made this institution attractive given that it offered their major of their interest. One participant did not take an offer from a different university because their desired major was not available. The academic majors represented by the participants in the study included Biotechnology, Business Economics, Exercise Science (Pre-athletic training), Hospitality management with minors in Management leadership and French, Sport and Recreation Management.

Scholarship offerings was important in the college choice decision to seven of the participants in the study, with some stating that it influenced them the most. One participant stated that without the scholarship they would not be able to afford to come to the USA for school and athletics. They said, “that was the biggest factor I think because from where I’m from at least our exchange rate is very bad. So, for me it was actually just all about the money basically….. it was one of my highest offers so that was a big thing and also that the tuition in general was a little lower than most other schools.” Another participant stated, “Other schools offered me a scholarship, but this institution offered me the biggest…….So for me, the scholarship was something I really needed.” Similarly stated, “Other schools were all quite similar in degree and the swimming program. So, when the end of May came around the scholarship made a big difference. If I could get more money I would go to that school.”

Touring the institution and athletic program through internet searches mattered to seven of the participants, who did not visit the school prior to their decision. Only one participant had a campus visit. Having the coach verbalize what they saw on the internet mattered to one of the participants. They mentioned, “I didn’t come to visit. The coach showed me everything by internet, but I didn’t come to visit at all. I just came straight from my first semester. I got here like 5 days before start school and then like a small window before that. I trusted him [the coach].” The location of the school was not a major factor in the student’s college choice. Some of the students did not know much about the location and size while others looked it up.

Intrinsic factors

Academic support mattered to seven of the eight participants. Access to academic support services was an important factor in their choice consideration. One participant stated, “It was important for me to like be able to get help in math which the academic advisor told me right away that they had math tutors and everything.” Another participant similarly stated, “I really liked the fact that like my academics would be supported a lot on top of athletics.”

All eight participants knew other international student-athletes from their home country who came or were going to college in the USA. This knowledge influenced the students’ decision to play in the USA but not necessarily to come to this institution. One participant stated, “A lot of my friends are here…..they have talked and said a lot of good things about stadiums.” Another participant said, “There are a lot of Dutch swimmers that go to the U.S. I knew a few of the people on the Dutch team and that they made like really big progress.” This participant also emphasize how social media has helped spread the world. “Just looking at their social media pages like all the fun things they do. It’s just so different from college at home.”

The influence of campus life was not a top factor but was considered from a residential life perspective. Two of the participants mentioned how their living situation mattered. One participant said, “I looked at the dorms.” Another student said, “I liked that the housing required two years of on campus housing and that it’s easy to get around and everything.” Two participants admitted that even after coming to the campus, they did not look up activities outside of athletics but acknowledged that it would be important later on during their academic and athletic career at the institution.

Role of Athletics

Extrinsic factors

All eight participants mentioned that the coach influenced their college choice decision. One participant stated, “I thought like my connection with the coach here was stronger than the others.” Another participant stated, I had a good feeling with coach…. He just made me more confident about coming here.”

Most of the students did not get to tour the campus, they based their opinion of the athletic facilities on what they were told by the coaches or what they were able to see online. The athletic facility did not influence the Swimmer’s decision, but the presence of an indoor facility positively influenced the three Golfers in the study. One participant said, “Because you got indoor facility like the one here where you have 24-hour access to it and you’ve got a top class pitching green up there and you got all the technology you’ve got other got all the hitting bays. It was as a no brainer basically you know.”

The opportunity to compete mattered to five of the participants. Most of the students had the understanding that they were going to be able to compete and this knowledge factored into their college choice decision. The majority students seemed to have the attitude that competing is what their coming to the USA was about. One stated, “It was very important. I enjoy practice but competing is the main thing that keeps me going.” Another said, “I was told that I would be able to compete a lot….. I didn’t really want to come all this way and have to be left behind when I train every day so that played quite a big part.” Another participant said, “I’ve always wanted to play at the top level. And you know when you play against those schools playing, you are playing as the best players in the world, so you want to see how you compare to them.” “Knowing that you can come to a D-one school compete with the best schools in the country especially at tournaments we play which the top 50 countries. Top 50 programs in the country. That’s how you get better compete with the best one and we’re competing with you guys are playing the next few years. So that made me for sure choose this institution.”

Intrinsic factors

Feeling a sense of belongingness with the team was important to seven the participants. This included aligning with the team’s coaching philosophy and values and/or having a strong connection with the coach and team. Fitting in with the team was important. “Felt like it would be a good fit because the swimming program had what I wanted and with my teammates having the same times [schedule] as me.” Another participant said, “I thought like my connection with the head coach here was stronger than the others. I had a good feeling with the coach…. He just made me more confident about coming here.” Another participant appreciated the friendliness from the coaches, “I found some of the other colleges I spoke to the coaches were a bit harsh. The coaches here were friendly and they more open to hearing what I wanted to contribute to the team and do for the team compared to the other universities. They kind of had their idea of what they wanted me to do and some of that was like.” Another participant similarly said, “The coaches were a lot more open to hearing my side of what I want to do and what I’m looking for.

Speaking highly of the program mattered, too. “They [the coaches] also spoke very well about the program. They gave me a good idea. And they kind of made it sound like everything that I wanted.” Having a similar vision was important. One participant shared, “I’ve talked to. 10 plus coaches and he’s so driven so desired like. There’s one thing that he wants. He’ll go get it even if it’s a team or no team he’ll get the best out of the players.” Caring for the whole student was also mentioned. “Obviously you want to be on a team where you can count on your coach you want to coach I want to help you to grow within your golf game. But I also like in your professional career too.”

Their dream of becoming a successful college athlete mattered to five participants. One participant mentioned the importance of being stretched as an athlete. They said, “At other schools I probably would’ve been the fastest in every event, but I want to be pushed. I want to be left behind.” Another participant stated, “This school offered me the opportunity to keep studying and playing golf.” Thus, the importance of adding athletics to academics was highly important.

RESULTS

Responses were examined, interpreted, and analyzed from eight male and female, international student-athletes (n=8) representing different countries, at a mid-size Division 1 university in the Midwest region of the USA to examine the factors influencing their college choice decision. Two major themes were found (a) the role of the institution and (b) the role of athletics. Each theme is categorized into extrinsic and intrinsic factors. Extrinsic factors meaning external, coming or operating from the institution or athletics. Intrinsic factors meaning internal, belonging or lying from within the student-athlete.

Role of Institution

Extrinsic factors

Prioritizing academics was paramount from all eight the participants in the study. All students interviewed knew the academic major they wanted to pursue in college, which made this institution attractive given that it offered their major of their interest. One participant did not take an offer from a different university because their desired major was not available. The academic majors represented by the participants in the study included Biotechnology, Business Economics, Exercise Science (Pre-athletic training), Hospitality management with minors in Management leadership and French, Sport and Recreation Management.

Scholarship offerings was important in the college choice decision to seven of the participants in the study, with some stating that it influenced them the most. One participant stated that without the scholarship they would not be able to afford to come to the USA for school and athletics. They said, “that was the biggest factor I think because from where I’m from at least our exchange rate is very bad. So, for me it was actually just all about the money basically….. it was one of my highest offers so that was a big thing and also that the tuition in general was a little lower than most other schools.” Another participant stated, “Other schools offered me a scholarship, but this institution offered me the biggest…….So for me, the scholarship was something I really needed.” Similarly stated, “Other schools were all quite similar in degree and the swimming program. So, when the end of May came around the scholarship made a big difference. If I could get more money I would go to that school.”

Touring the institution and athletic program through internet searches mattered to seven of the participants, who did not visit the school prior to their decision. Only one participant had a campus visit. Having the coach verbalize what they saw on the internet mattered to one of the participants. They mentioned, “I didn’t come to visit. The coach showed me everything by internet, but I didn’t come to visit at all. I just came straight from my first semester. I got here like 5 days before start school and then like a small window before that. I trusted him [the coach].” The location of the school was not a major factor in the student’s college choice. Some of the students did not know much about the location and size while others looked it up.

Intrinsic factors

Academic support mattered to seven of the eight participants. Access to academic support services was an important factor in their choice consideration. One participant stated, “It was important for me to like be able to get help in math which the academic advisor told me right away that they had math tutors and everything.” Another participant similarly stated, “I really liked the fact that like my academics would be supported a lot on top of athletics.”

All eight participants knew other international student-athletes from their home country who came or were going to college in the USA. This knowledge influenced the students’ decision to play in the USA but not necessarily to come to this institution. One participant stated, “A lot of my friends are here…..they have talked and said a lot of good things about stadiums.” Another participant said, “There are a lot of Dutch swimmers that go to the U.S. I knew a few of the people on the Dutch team and that they made like really big progress.” This participant also emphasize how social media has helped spread the world. “Just looking at their social media pages like all the fun things they do. It’s just so different from college at home.”

The influence of campus life was not a top factor but was considered from a residential life perspective. Two of the participants mentioned how their living situation mattered. One participant said, “I looked at the dorms.” Another student said, “I liked that the housing required two years of on campus housing and that it’s easy to get around and everything.” Two participants admitted that even after coming to the campus, they did not look up activities outside of athletics but acknowledged that it would be important later on during their academic and athletic career at the institution.

Role of Athletics

Extrinsic factors

All eight participants mentioned that the coach influenced their college choice decision. One participant stated, “I thought like my connection with the coach here was stronger than the others.” Another participant stated, I had a good feeling with coach…. He just made me more confident about coming here.”

Most of the students did not get to tour the campus, they based their opinion of the athletic facilities on what they were told by the coaches or what they were able to see online. The athletic facility did not influence the Swimmer’s decision, but the presence of an indoor facility positively influenced the three Golfers in the study. One participant said, “Because you got indoor facility like the one here where you have 24-hour access to it and you’ve got a top class pitching green up there and you got all the technology you’ve got other got all the hitting bays. It was as a no brainer basically you know.”

The opportunity to compete mattered to five of the participants. Most of the students had the understanding that they were going to be able to compete and this knowledge factored into their college choice decision. The majority students seemed to have the attitude that competing is what their coming to the USA was about. One stated, “It was very important. I enjoy practice but competing is the main thing that keeps me going.” Another said, “I was told that I would be able to compete a lot….. I didn’t really want to come all this way and have to be left behind when I train every day so that played quite a big part.” Another participant said, “I’ve always wanted to play at the top level. And you know when you play against those schools playing, you are playing as the best players in the world, so you want to see how you compare to them.” “Knowing that you can come to a D-one school compete with the best schools in the country especially at tournaments we play which the top 50 countries. Top 50 programs in the country. That’s how you get better compete with the best one and we’re competing with you guys are playing the next few years. So that made me for sure choose this institution.”

Intrinsic factors

 Feeling a sense of belongingness with the team was important to seven the participants. This included aligning with the team’s coaching philosophy and values and/or having a strong connection with the coach and team. Fitting in with the team was important. “Felt like it would be a good fit because the swimming program had what I wanted and with my teammates having the same times [schedule] as me.” Another participant said, “I thought like my connection with the head coach here was stronger than the others. I had a good feeling with the coach…. He just made me more confident about coming here.” Another participant appreciated the friendliness from the coaches, “I found some of the other colleges I spoke to the coaches were a bit harsh. The coaches here were friendly and they more open to hearing what I wanted to contribute to the team and do for the team compared to the other universities. They kind of had their idea of what they wanted me to do and some of that was like.” Another participant similarly said, “The coaches were a lot more open to hearing my side of what I want to do and what I’m looking for.

Speaking highly of the program mattered, too. “They [the coaches] also spoke very well about the program. They gave me a good idea. And they kind of made it sound like everything that I wanted.” Having a similar vision was important. One participant shared, “I’ve talked to. 10 plus coaches and he’s so driven so desired like. There’s one thing that he wants. He’ll go get it even if it’s a team or no team he’ll get the best out of the players.” Caring for the whole student was also mentioned. “Obviously you want to be on a team where you can count on your coach you want to coach I want to help you to grow within your golf game. But I also like in your professional career too.”

Their dream of becoming a successful college athlete mattered to five participants. One participant mentioned the importance of being stretched as an athlete. They said, “At other schools I probably would’ve been the fastest in every event, but I want to be pushed. I want to be left behind.” Another participant stated, “This school offered me the opportunity to keep studying and playing golf.” Thus, the importance of adding athletics to academics was highly important.

DISCUSSION

The study included international student-athletes from different parts of the world; developed and developing countries. None of the students articulated push factors as reasons for coming to the USA, but they did have pull factors, the main one being opportunity to pursue both athletics and academics in college. Only the USA offers opportunity for collegiate athletics opportunities (Love & Kim, 2011). Availability of a scholarship was important, several students mentioned that without it they would not have been able to come to the USA. Some students talked about the differences in currency strengths between their country and the USA as contributing to not being able to afford a USA education, but money (economic opportunity) was not cited as a main reason that athletes came to the USA.

-All the student-athletes were influenced by the coach in making the college choice decision. Because most of them did not get a recruiting visit, their school choice depended on how much they felt that they could relate to and trust the coach as well as the clarity of information received from the coach. Unlike the findings by Mazzarol and Soutar, (2002) recommendations from other international athletes did not play a big role in college choice decision. The information obtained from other international student-athletes helped the students to solidify their interest and as a cautionary tale on what to pay attention to in evaluating schools.

Many of the student-athletes in the study were from countries that were not culturally or geographically similar to the USA. In agreement with Pierce et al. (2011), those students struggled to understand the USA academic grading and athletic system, found the weather to be worse than imagined and struggled with the language. This study did not ascertain whether these students from countries dissimilar to the USA had received advanced warning from other international student-athletes from their countries about these issues. One student voiced the need for international student-athletes to integrate with their American counterparts which is difficult because of feeling that they are different.

LIMITATIONS

The data collection method had the advantage of examining different potential reasons for international student-athletes’ college choice, however, having preset questions even though the interviewer could go off the script to gain further insight narrowed the conversation. It is possible that some reasons were not explored because the interview was directed, and the athlete may have felt that they needed to only speak about what was being asked. When asked if there was anything they wanted to add, most students were hesitant, but some came up with different topics which could be additional reasons for school choice by international student-athletes. A study where the interviewer only asks the athlete to tell their story without directing them could uncover more reasons and shed more light on international student-athlete’s college choice.

CONCLUSIONS

The overarching theme identified in this study is that international student-athletes’ choice of school is motivated by a desire to have a great experience: feel a sense of belongingness with the team, connecting with the head coach and coaches, as well as succeeding academically and athletically.

APPLICATIONS IN SPORT

Results indicated that the head coach, availability of the academic major, and the availability of scholarships were the top reasons for choice of school. Seven of the participants did not visit the school prior to their decision but heavily relied on the coach, other international athletes, and internet searches. Coaches will need to take time to build relationships with international student-athletes they are recruiting and provide information to them from a distance may be paramount to their recruitment.

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2024-02-02T07:45:38-06:00February 2nd, 2024|Research, Sports Coaching, Sports Management|Comments Off on Analysis of Factors Influencing the College Choice Decisions of NCAA Division I International Student-Athletes
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